Turnabout Is Fair Play

“…the God of all comfort…
comforts us in all our troubles,
so that we can comfort those in any trouble
with the comfort we ourselves
have received from God.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

A remarkable conference was a few years ago. It was a gathering of physically challenged children and their families. Their weekend was sponsored by a national non-profit organization. During the conference the interaction between the parents and the children was as beneficial as the actual sessions that the conference provided. Ideas on how to cope with specific issues were shared and much practical information was taken in by less experienced families. Most attendees went home very grateful for the sharing of coping skills and with new information on how to best help their child on their journey in life.

The same principle that worked so effectively at the conference is just the idea that Paul speaks about in our passage today. It is clear that the Lord wishes us to recall how He helped us through our tough times and expects us to take that information to others in a similar situation and share it with them.

We are not to receive grace from God to handle our problems and then not share our history with God to others. We are to speak up and tell how God worked in our lives and caused us to make it through the problem or else how He enabled us to live with it.

You might start with saying to the person something like, “I am not certain how God will help you deal with your issues but may I tell you how He helped me with mine?” That is a good opener. Then, if the person is willing to let you speak about your own journey, you can speak about the Bible verses that especially helped, or the person who did so much for you and so on.

When you look around you will find many organized groups who offer help for various difficulties in life. Their members are usually people who have suffered a common problem such as bereavement, debilitating illness, a family member who is into substance abuse, and so on. Comfort is derived in these groups by simply hearing the successful story of another, or listening as someone who is struggling gets help from someone else in the group.

Who do you know who would benefit from your story with suffering? Is there someone who trusts you that you might approach to ask them if you might tell your story and how God comforted you? Think about it and then make that all important call to share your comfort today.

On the other hand, if you need help, contact someone who has, or is, making a journey like yours and seems to be coping fairly well. Ask them how God comforts them. Remember, turnabout is fair play.

“Why doesn’t God do something about it?”

“Do not judge or you too will be judged.”
Matthew 7:1

A long time ago, in a lecture hall far away, a professor was filling my mind with psychological concepts. One such concept was “projection”. This is a case where a person cannot consciously admit to a personal problem so “projects” it onto another and criticizes that person for the problem they have.

They are guilt ridden with their issue and need to recognize and criticize the behaviour. Hence they look at someone else, “see” in that person their own problem and then comment negatively at what they “see” in the other. Relief may be felt that the issue is criticized, but they are safe from concern as it is now someone else’s problem via “projection” and not theirs.

Sometimes I sense that certain people who complain about the suffering in the world and then ask, “Why doesn’t God do something about it?” are involved with projection. This group of people who make such complaints about God are people who never do anything themselves to help the poor and suffering. Guilt overcomes them for their neglect of the needy, but they cannot consciously admit their own hard heartedness in the situation.

Instead of asking themselves why they are not helping with their personal resources, they ask why God is not doing something. They spend all their spare cash on themselves and refuse to contribute to relief organizations. Why they do not see their own hypocrisy in the matter escapes me. When they judge God they are telling us their own problem, they judge themselves as Jesus said.

For those who send relief to the suffering and then ask such a question, we must say that there is not a clear answer sometimes. However, we should recognize that God gives some people in the world more than they need in order to have them support those who cannot help themselves.

Some of us may not have the monetary resources to do much for say, famine relief in Africa. But there are people around us who need the comfort of a regular visit or a card, or some meals that they can easily warmed up in their stove. Perhaps some of us can only make a phone call. Remember that when we speak to those in difficulty we need to remember what they told us so that next time we talk to them we can ask about the issue they mentioned.

One shut-in I know regularly phones or emails people in pain and with her cheerful manner ministers effectively to them. She has a fine memory and easily recalls the detail of the person she speaks to in order to demonstrate compassion. It is very rewarding to see how she uses her time in the wheelchair to be a blessing to others.

Are you able to turn your own suffering into something good for another? Who can you reach out to today to comfort right at the time you may need comfort yourself?

We All Need Hesed

“…the faithful God who keeps covenant and
mercy (hesed) with those that love him…”
Deuteronomy 7:9

Almost all of us have been in or are in covenants of various kinds. There is the marriage covenant, the mortgage covenant, various kinds of lease and lending covenants, and so on. Most people’s lives are touched somehow by covenants.

In its simplest terms, a covenant is an agreement between two or more people. Each side promises certain things to the other side, and each side is promised certain things from the other side. Some covenants are for a long term like a mortgage, some for a short term such as a lease on a car, perhaps 4-5 years. Then, some covenants such as the marriage covenant are for life. The line, “till death do us part…” is a familiar word on people’s lips.

I well recall in a class at university how the professor talked about covenants and about “hesed”. He had a wonderful education with two earned doctorates. I respected his scholarship. He told us in class that possibly the best English translation of the Hebrew Bible’s term hesed, was “covenant loyalty”.

God is always loyal to His people, the people who have an agreement, or covenant, with Him. God never forsakes His covenant or breaks the covenant He has made with His children. Such a thought becomes especially meaningful to us in times of sorrow.

A very beautiful expression in our English Bibles is the phrase about God “remembering” His covenant. In Exodus 6:5 we hear of God observing the groaning of His people in Egyptian bondage. At that time of observation God is said to “remember” His covenant.

This does not mean God called to mind the terms of His covenant, rather it means God made the covenant a going concern. God did the things that He had committed Himself to in that covenant.

Now, as we think of the earthly covenants we have made, some have been fulfilled—and for some of my readers certain covenants were broken. For example when a marriage dissolves, the covenant is broken. The promise “till death do us part” is not fulfilled. What happened was the covenant was fulfilled until someone else came along and caused the breakup of the marriage.

If you have believed that you are in covenant with God—if you love God—you may be assured that He will never desert you for another. Regardless of how you may have failed Him, He will remain faithful to you. He will perform hesed. This is what we all need to keep us stable in the rocky times of life.

Whatever is troubling you today, find comfort in this truth. Your God will never leave you nor forsake you. You are His forever if you love Him.

My name from the palms of His hands
eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart it remains,
in marks of indelible grace.

-Augustus Toplady

“When all else fails…”

“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path”
Psalm 119:105 (NIV)

I recall an abandoned Model T Ford parked in the yard of the family farm where I spent a lot of time playing with my older brother. Even before we were big enough to have our feet touch the three pedals on the floor we knew how they worked.

The one on the left was pushed half way in to put the transmission in neutral, all the way down for first gear, and released for high gear. The triangular pedal in the middle was for reverse and the pedal on the right was for the two wheel brakes. The gas and spark advance levers were on the steering column.

The car we used was a Model A Ford, 1929 edition. It did not have luxuries such as a heater or windshield defroster. Both the Model T and Model A had a crank to start the engine at the front of the car just below the radiator. Quite a few people broke an arm when they used it and the engine “kicked back”.

Those vehicles were so very simple to operate. With only the bare minimum of dials, pedals or levers to control them, learning to operate these cars was a cinch. There was no operator’s manual for either of them. Ford had produced such a book for each car but by the time my family took possession of the vehicles they were long gone. However with such a basic piece of machinery to operate, there was little to learn.

With our modern cars and their complexity, an owner’s manual is a very handy volume to have at times when the need arises to understand such things as why a certain light is flashing in the dash and so on. But, most of us can get into a modern car with a set of the keys, start up that complex piece of machinery and get it down the road in air-conditioned comfort while we search for our favourite FM radio station on the car radio We don’t need a manual for that.

The problem comes when we are stopped on the side of the road because the car broke down. Then we need the help of not only the operator’s manual but very likely a skilled mechanic to get it back on the road. In the old days most drivers carried baling wire, pliers, tin snips, some other simple tools and they fixed the car on the side of the road.

It seems like life is similar to modern cars. It is very complex and can give us lots of problems we cannot solve on our own. We need a user’s guide to life to teach us how to handle the many alternatives that can come along. This is where the Bible comes in so handy. Its pages have all the instructions we need from our Creator on how to cope with whatever life serves up.

This is the meaning of our verse today. The Word of God is like having a flashlight when we must walk on a dark and unfamiliar path. God’s Word illuminates the otherwise dark road ahead and allows us to avoid the ditch and go around the obstacles that would stop us in our tracks.

Have you started to use the Biblical wisdom to guide you through the way you are travelling in life? Oh, yes, like a operating modern car, you may go far in life without referring to the user’s guide to life. But the time will come when you stall and need the Bible that you have ignored for so long. May we suggest you begin with the Gospel of John in the New Testament? The wisdom in the Bible cannot be found anywhere else. When all else fails, read the Bible.

Knowing God

“I want to know Christ—
yes, to know the power of his resurrection
and participation in his sufferings…”
Philippians 3:10 (NIV)

“…I pray…that you may know…
his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted
when he raised Christ from the dead…” 
Ephesians 1:18-20 (NIV)

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”
Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

Some people crave power as an addict craves whatever they are addicted to. Power comes in a variety of forms—monetary, political, physical, and so on. Sometimes one form of power is used to gain a second form of power. For example, a lot of money is consumed in winning a political position.

However, Paul the apostle craved a unique form of power for very different reasons. He wanted to know the power it took to raise Christ from the dead. Such a power is far beyond anything human genius can create. Regardless of how much money a person spends on doctors and medical treatment death finally comes. Medical doctors will never drive funeral directors out of business! It is generally accepted that raising the dead is impossible.

However, Paul is not wanting to know resurrection power for its own sake. He wants that form of power in conjunction with “participation in his (Christ’s) suffering”.

To participate in suffering is not an idea that is popular with people. Such a biblical theme is generally ignored by some well known preachers in the western world. Usually, those preachers are all about living the “good life” here and now.

Some of the most godly and truly productive believers are the ones who have suffered the most. The most published preacher in history was C.H. Spurgeon. He suffered from Bright’s disease, gout, neuritis, rheumatism, and depression. He was too ill to preach during more than 25% of his adult life. Yet he could never recall preaching when people were not converted. Among church historians he is generally regarded as the “Prince of preachers”.

Our beloved Saviour was named the “Man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). So, entry into the Christian life is to enter into suffering similar to that described in Isaiah 52:1353:12. My reader are you praying to know the resurrection power of Christ? Do you wish to participate in His suffering? 2 Timothy 2:12 tells us that if we suffer we shall reign with Him. Rise up Christian friend and embrace your calling in the power of the resurrected Christ. We have eternity to rest and enjoy ourselves in the company of those who overcame.

“To the one who is victorious,
I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,
just as I was victorious
and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Revelation 3:21 (NIV)

Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.

When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of vict’ry through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.

– Isaac Watts